1988 Countdown #43: Information Society, “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)

A burbling drum-machine rhythm accompanies quick cuts of four young white synth-poppers, including a boy with Chris Lowe glasses covering his mouth, a girl with black lace gloves covering her ears, and a lead singer covering one ear and one eye.

Then a gravelly voice solemnly intones, “Pure energy,” and the set is revealed in its full glory. There’s a white background, with brightly colored scrawls behind the band: an orange airplane, a yellow fish, a green alarm clock. The bassist has an oversized cardboard bass in pastel blue, and is valiantly pretending to play it. It looks sloppy and amateurish, like a high-school drama club took an afternoon to bang out a set for a children’s theater production. It’s not really the image that a hipster synth band wants; this video has the aura of “our A&R rep at the record company told us this would be a good idea.” To add insult to injury, I suspect the band was charged an enormous sum to make this clip.

We see bright flashing colors, and the words “PURE ENERGY” scrawled across the screen, followed by some black skulls. Lead singer Kurt Harland stalks around the cartoonish set. He’s wearing a black suit and a mod shirt that gestures at the idea of a collar. His hair is a patchwork of black, red, and blonde dye and appears to have a small colony of Spanish moss growing out of one side. He’s trying to look menacing and mysterious, and completely failing.

Harland backs away from the camera, holding up fingers counting down–four, three, two, one–and then charges forward and sings “Here I am in silence,” which is an odd first line for a song. Shouldn’t it be “Now I break my silence”? In the background, the girl saws away on a bright blue cardboard violin. The whole band looks like they’re working the acne/concealer combo.

I suppose this is a good place to mention that I vaguely knew Kurt in the early ’90s–he and I were both on the Well, the pioneering online community that over the past two decades has evolved into the Colonial Williamsburg of the Internet. He wasn’t a pal, but we chatted sometimes, and he was a decent enough guy. At the time, he seemed like a rock star who had wandered into a crowd of computer nerds; watching this video now, he looks like a computer nerd who somehow ended up in the same countdown as actual rock stars.

Kurt keeps advancing and retreating, like he’s Grover explaining the difference between “near” and “far.” The other members of the band circle around him. Kurt waves his arms ever more energetically, trying to make up for the charisma deficit. An animated eye blinks. We switch to fast-cut stuttering editing of the band, doing the hands over eyes/ears/mouth bit again. The girl with the oversized cardboard violin is wearing something in her hair that appears to have given her Minnie Mouse ears.

The band members jump in the air, in brightly colored silhouettes. Beyond a certain altitude, jumping in videos usually looks dorky (e.g., R.E.M.’s “Stand”). Demonstrating this maxim, the drummer jumps up, splayed out like a starfish, with a bicycle cap, high-top sneakers, and a sleeveless t-shirt riding over his belly.

More silhouettes, this time of a hammer, to the clanking beat of the song. The drummer appears with a giant orange hammer and bops Harland on the head; Harland lurches backwards, miming a colossal blow. The footage speeds up, as if the editor got bored and fell asleep on the fast-forward button.

Once again, that gravelly voice says “pure energy.” To be more precise, it’s Leonard Nimoy, performing as Spock. Information Society’s schtick (other than being a white band on hip-hop label Tommy Boy) was that their songs included lots of Star Trek samples. These would have been pretty much impossible to clear, if not for the fact that Nimoy’s son was a fan of the band.

Double-time buzzing riff, as the band cavorts in forced gaiety. The bassist is wearing striped shorts and running around; the girl with the cardboard violin is skipping. Information Society managed another top-ten hit in 1989 (“Walking Away”) and a top-thirty hit in 1990 (“Think”) before disappearing. Apparently, they later tried to reinvent themselves in an industrial mode, which was the synth-pop equivalent of hair-metal bands going grunge. Video aside, this is a decent song. I mean, it’s no “Unbelievable” by EMF, but what is?

“What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” hit number three on the singles chart. You can watch it here.

posted 4 May 2011 in 1988 and tagged , . 9 comments

9 Comments on 1988 Countdown #43: Information Society, “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)”

  1. frinklin Says:

    This was my favorite song at age 13, but even i could see what a unbelievably terrible video it was.

  2. Chris M. Says:

    I remember Information Society doing well on Billboard‘s new Modern Rock chart when it launched in the fall of 1988, because back then anything vaguely limey and fey did well on alt-radio, even if the music was sorta dancey. But this is the kind of band that became instantly passé in 1991.

  3. azul120 Says:

    I agree, this was a solid song that was stuck with a cheesy video. Maybe they just didn’t care?

    Not that it mattered much, as it did really well on MTV, going all the way to #2 on the top 20 and spending 11 or so weeks on the chart, and also received a decent amount of recurrent airplay for the next few years. I also remember it coming in at around #120 on the top 300 of all time countdown they did about 20 years ago. Not to mention that recent MTV “new artists of the year” promo. It’s a little surprising, with all of that in mind, that it came in at #43 here. Then again, MTV’s year end lists would on occasion be packed with videos that made an impression, and the rest of the countdown will definitely reflect that. Still, there are a couple up the chart that probably shouldn’t be higher.

  4. James Says:

    Dicks. Enjoy your Doritos and your simulated life discussing how “bad” a band was 20+ years ago. How’s the new Halo workin’ out for ya? ’bout as close as you’ll ever get to actually DOING something I am supposing. Guess I was just enjoying my life to much to really care what some assholes would think 20 years later… N-joy!

  5. Gavin Says:

    (The above comment comes to us from Information Society bassist James Cassidy, who appears to care a little more about our collective opinion than he’s admitting. Welcome to the website, James!)

  6. Shawn Says:

    James, I wouldn’t worry about stuff like this. First and foremost, folks are apt to be more critical of things when they are online because there isn’t much in the way of reprisal. The second thing to remember was the 80′s were a different decade with a different mix of pop esthetics. The world was a different place. Comparing then to now is nearly always going to a be a venture tempered with some humor and/or criticism. Heck, I’ve read through this whole ’88 blog thing and fouind myself disagreeing with a portion of Gavin’s musings and still finding entertainment in his writing style and his grasp of pop-culture. The things that pop into his head and his intuitive leaps provide a fun way to explore nostalgia. Gavin gives writes the way I wish I could, with fun and wit, and this line of blogging gives us all a blast of nostalgia from the golden years of MUSIC Television.

    Most things from that era of MTV carry at least a little silliness with them. Being an artist, I would’ve thought you to have a thicker skin than this, bud. Neither this nor the comments were a personal attack on you, and there’s no need to blast hateful or hurtful words at anyone else. That being said, if you really are the James from Information Society, I just wanted to thank you for all the great tunes. I still listen to all of the albums. For the record, you guys are awesome and EMF shouldn’t even have been mentioned in the same breath as Information Society.

    …how I hate EMF and that horrid “Unbelievable” song….ugh…

  7. Shawn Says:

    *ignore the typos, I did that last post while at work…

  8. Gavin Says:

    Hey, thanks for the kind words, Shawn.

  9. Taco Grande Says:

    I remember when this came out, I was just starting the 10th grade and was really surprised that a synth pop song would hit it big on the radio when synth pop seemed to peak a few years earlier (which to a 15 year old feels like forever ago). I was a huge fan of new wave synth pop in the early 80s (Howard Jones, Flock of Seagulls, Human League, etc.), this song would have fit right in.

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